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Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Congress Considers TikTok Ban: What You Need to Know

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Legislation that could ban TikTok in the U.S. if Beijing-based ByteDance doesn’t sell its stake in the social media platform is moving quickly in the House, with lawmakers expected to hold a vote Wednesday morning.

House Majority Leader Steve Scalise, a Louisiana Republican, was confident the bill would pass.

TikTok has repeatedly been targeted by lawmakers seeking to restrict the app over concerns that the Chinese government could force ByteDance to hand over the data of its 170 million American users. Lawmakers say the concern is warranted because Chinese national security laws require organizations to cooperate with intelligence gathering. TikTok has long denied it could be used by the Chinese government to spy on Americans.

The House fast-tracked the bill, known as the Protecting Americans from Foreign Adversary Controlled Applications Act, skipping the Rules Committee and bringing it up under a procedure that requires two-thirds support for passage, an indication that it has broad bipartisan support.

President Biden has vowed to sign the legislation, which would require ByteDance to sell TikTok within six months or be banned from U.S. app stores and web-hosting services.

“Americans need to ask themselves whether they want to give the Chinese government the ability to control access to their data, whether they want to give the Chinese government the ability to control the information they get through the recommendation algorithm,” FBI Director Christopher Wray told House Intelligence Committee members on Tuesday, adding that the Chinese government could compromise Americans’ devices through the software.

China’s Ministry of Commerce said last year it would “firmly oppose” the forced sale of TikTok. ByteDance did not return a request for comment.

Liu Pengyu, spokesperson for the Chinese Embassy in Washington, accused the U.S. of running a disinformation campaign “for the purpose of bringing down the company.”

The U.S. “has not been able to give hard evidence to prove the so-called threats from TikTok to U.S. national security,” Liu said in a statement, calling on the U.S. to “provide an open, fair, equal and non-discriminatory business environment to companies of all countries operating in the U.S.”

According to Agence France-Presse, Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin asserted before the vote Wednesday that, “This kind of bullying behavior that cannot win in fair competition disrupts companies’ normal business activity, damages the confidence of international investors in the investment environment and damages the normal international economic and trade order. In the end, this will inevitably come back to bite the United States itself.”

But it’s unclear whether its passage in the House would mark the beginning of the end for TikTok in the U.S. Efforts to widely ban it have stalled amid disagreements about how to regulate the platform, free speech concerns and legal challenges.

In recent days, TikTok wielded its massive user base against lawmakers, inundating them with calls from constituents worried that they could lose access to the widely popular platform. A recent Pew Research Center survey found declining support among U.S. adults for a TikTok ban, even among those who were aware of ByteDance’s connection to China.

Former President Donald Trump’s opposition to the bill could also sway some Republicans to drop their support for it, just as it helped sink a bipartisan immigration deal earlier this year. Trump reversed his support for a TikTok ban, arguing that doing so would benefit Facebook, though at the same time, he also called TikTok a national security risk. Trump signed an executive order in 2020 that would have effectively barred it from operating in the U.S., but it faced a legal challenge from the company and was ultimately rescinded by the Biden administration.

The House bill is likely to face obstacles in the Senate, where a bipartisan effort last year to restrict TikTok petered out. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat, has not yet committed to putting it on the floor and some senators are hesitant to focus on just one social media platform.

“I still have concerns about naming a specific company in legislation, but it feels like this House bill has momentum,” Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia, the Democratic chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, told reporters Monday.

Sen. John Cornyn, a Texas Republican, said he is “not sure that this is the answer.” Sen. Rand Paul, a Kentucky Republican, opposes the bill, calling it “inconsistent” with the First Amendment.

Rubio, however, said it was “a good sign” that the bill is quickly moving through the House.

On Thursday, the House Energy and Commerce Committee unanimously advanced it after officials from the Justice Department and FBI gave members a classified briefing on TikTok. House members received another briefing on Tuesday from national security officials.

The Justice Department advised lawmakers that the legislation would be on more stable legal ground if it gave the government the authority to force ByteDance to divest from TikTok, rather than to impose an outright ban on the app if ByteDance doesn’t sell, according to a memo obtained by CBS News. The White House has also suggested it may not yet withstand legal scrutiny.

Rep. Mike Gallagher, a Wisconsin Republican who introduced the bill, said Tuesday that he thinks the legislation could withstand a legal challenge because “there’s no authority to go after any American company, and there’s no authority to go after content.”

“This is regulating conduct, not content,” Rep. Chip Roy, a Texas Republican, said after Tuesday’s classified briefing in defense of the bill.

Rep. Robert Garcia, a California Democrat, said the briefing failed to convince him that TikTok is an immediate national security threat. Appearing alongside TikTok creators outside the Capitol on Tuesday, Garcia said a ban would harm the economy and take away a platform that minority communities have used to connect.

Other House Democrats who opposed the bill criticized the lower chamber for rushing the bill to a floor vote, saying it lacked the necessary hearings.

Garcia said they would pressure their Senate colleagues to “ensure the Senate does not rush on this.”

“I’m more hopeful in the Senate doing the right thing right now than us in the House,” he said.

Gallagher, who leads the House Select Committee on the Chinese Communist Party, said an overwhelming vote in favor would send a message to the Senate.

“I just want a big vote on Wednesday so that the Senate is forced to take it up,” he said.

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